A Tour Guide Turned Humanitarian (Staff Interview)

Right after WFP opened its new Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean in Panama 10 years ago, Luis Vergara became a driver for the regional office. Braving flat tires and traffic jams, Luis also had the opportunity to work in an emergency operation during an outbreak of flooding in his native Panama.

1) Tell us about your job

I’m a driver. My job is to transport people or things to help the office function better, where we all work together for the wellbeing of the people who cannot eat daily.

World Humanitarian Day

WFP staff talking to a group of men and women near to a bombarded building in Syria

Every day, humanitarian workers around the world make sacrifices and face danger in order to reach people who need their help. On August 19, we recognize their commitment and dedication.

2) What is the hardest thing about it?

The most difficult part of my job is the heavy traffic in the city. It’s always a challenge to find alternative routes or depart with much more anticipation to arrive punctually without complications.

3) What did you do before joining WFP?

I worked as a tour guide. It was a very interesting job because I was able to explain to tourists the history of my country. I learnt to love it even more than I did.

4) How did you find your way into WFP?

Casually working as a travel guide I met someone that mentioned that they were going to open a UN Office and they needed a driver that knew the city and that had basic English speaking abilities. Therefore I applied to the position that was released in 2003, just in time for the inauguration of the Regional WFP Office in Panama and I gained the position as driver of the Regional Director, Zoraida Mesa.

5) What’s your most motivating experience with WFP?

It was when I was sent to support emergency relief efforts during the 2008 floods in Bocas del Toro, which is about 12 hours away from the capital. When I arrived at the airport, where relief efforts were being coordinated, a logistics officer came and said that I wasn’t just a driver anymore—I was a logistics assistant too. My first task was to create an excel doc converting the amount of food we’d dispatched from pounds and ounces to metric tons. It was a great experience

Luis Vergara lifts a box of WFP food in a warehouse in Panama6) What’s your most frightening experience?

We were visiting the home of a colleague who works for the Panama’s national civil protection system, a WFP partner. The roads were flooded and it was very dangerous. It was dark, there was a lot of fog and we could barely see. The roads were already in poor condition after a series of landslides. Finally we reached her home and were relieved to find that she and her family were alright.

7) What is a humanitarian?  

It is giving everything to serve other human beings that are in need of help, not only in emergencies, but when they seek support, without thinking about how one is feeling or living in that moment.

8) Are you one?

Of course. When you join an organization like WFP, you have to be aware that you are making a contribution to the world regardless of the type of work or job you are involved in. In the personal sense, I think that with my actions I help many people in desperate need and when I do my job well, those people reap the benefits.